The end of one cycle…the beginning of the next

We are working on a new title for my next book. I’m nearly finished with the copy edits, and cover discussions have begun.  That means it’s time for me to think about what’s next.

I’ve started working on ideas for new books. This is–by far–the most enjoyable stage of the process until I have a finished book to hold in my hands, and one of the pleasures is in building collages.  Tonight, I’ve been leafing through some of my favorites, tearing out pictures and simply enjoying the quiet, restful pleasure of looking at beautiful photos, leafing through magazines, letting images and ideas rise.

One of my favorites, Artful Blogging, actually provided the seed for the new book.  In its pages, I read story after story of women whose lives had been transformed by the act of starting and keeping up with a blog.  Some were artists, some chefs or bakers, some quilters or photographers, but over and over again, they said the same thing: “Blogging changed my life.”

I kept wondering what that would be like, to live somewhere isolated, and decide to begin this journey.  And what might my character discover? And where would it take her? And so the book was born, four food bloggers who support and encourage each other, and finally meet on the blue moon at a lavender farm….

Anyway, tonight I was leafing through all these beautiful magazines and thought of all of you. If you have not ever picked up‘s artful magazines, I hearby order you to go look around the site and click through a few.  And remember that little things can change your life, too.

Do you collage or quilt or make art in some way? Do you have favorite art blogs to share with us? 

Putting Summer Away

Before I forget:  Amazon included In the Midnight Rain in an October special, so it’s .99 for the whole month. If you haven’t read it, now is a good time to grab it.

Now…on to the blog….

It’s a slightly overcast morning, and promises to be truly cold and blustery and maybe even snowy tomorrow.  I had the house cleaned thoroughly yesterday—it feels so good to have the house all in order, and the floors cleaned and the bathrooms sparkling.  I love, love, love that.  Once, it would have made me feel guilty.  Now I think about how the young woman who cleans my house has a job and I get a clean house. Good trade.

We had our first freeze on Wednesday night, and all the tomato plants fell over, despite my (half-hearted) attempts to save them with tarps.  I had to collect them all, about 20-25 pounds of green beefsteak and roma tomatoes of many sizes.  I took bags of them to each of my neighbors, and this morning put the rest on the top shelf of the greenhouse window.   They looked so beautiful that I had to run and get my camera to shoot them, finding in me that quiet, that peacefulness that comes to me through the lens of a camera for no reason I can pinpoint.  Maybe it’s the focus, the wordlessness of letting everything go to be in the moment, here, right now.  Maybe it’s the sweetness of beauty, because I do tend to shoot things I think are beautiful.  Some photographers collect gritty or grim or ugly things, but I’ve never been that person.  I love beauty, and flowers and fruits and vegetables, and looking at things closely.

I love the corn in the background, the way the light spills over the silken curves of the tomatoes, the way their shapes are repeated over and over, and the stems add prickliness.

I also like this one:


Garden/kitchen tip: green tomatoes will keep for a long time this way.  Spread a paper towel over a flat window sill and put the tomatoes on top. The last time I did this, I had tomatoes through Christmas.

Now I’ve played long enough and need to turn my focus to writing.  Last night, on the way home from a book club meeting in Woodland Park, I was tangling myself up over the story I’m writing, thinking how to do this and how to do that, and the Girls in the Basement said, “Oh, just stop it!  Just write.  Have some fun, will you?”

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to stop burdening this poor book with more and more and more expectations and weighing it down with lead bricks of time pressure and twisting and turning and all that other business- and expectation-crap and just let the story emerge as it wishes.  I like these characters!  I love them, honestly.  Lavender and Ruby and Ginny and Noah and the little barn cat and the lavender fields and the chickens.   It’s lovely and sweet and I’m just going to go write now.

What are you up to this weekend?  Is it freezing where you are? Do you know any recipes for green tomatoes?  

How Flowers, A Camera, and The Girls Play Together

This morning I awakened feeling crazy hunger to create, which often happens to me on days like this. It’s cool, with a sweet little breeze carrying autumn. It’s overcast, which is the most important thing.  In a place with so much sunlight, cloudy days are a blessing, quieter somehow, thoughtful.  I walked the dog and found words rolling up, and a dozen plot tangles suddenly and easily resolving themselves.  When I got home, I had to check the corn and beans in the garden. It has not been a great vegetable year, but the flowers are lovely.   In one patch, the lavender is in wild bloom (and I neglected to label which lavender plants I have out there, so I have to remember that the border group blooms late, while the others bloom earlier).

Anyway, somewhere in early summer I saw a tiny patch of lavender and small shell-pink roses growing together, so I copied it, as all gardeners do.  All summer, I probably had this moment in mind, this bottle and the minute bouquet of lavender and the fairy pink rose, sitting in a window with quiet light behind.  To get this particular shot, the very one, the only one, I had to shoot 66 photos.  The light is so low the flash kept going off, and at one point, I pulled a chair over to shoot it from above.  The bottle was sitting next to an empty blue wine bottle from a local winery, which I thought I would love and didn’t.

But finally, I headed up stairs to edit the shoot.  Over and over, I tried adjusting light, crops, tones, details. Some of them are lovely, and I might print a trio to put side by side in a frame.  This one, however, didn’t need anything much.  I tweaked the light the teeniest bit, but that’s it.  Just as it was, it was fine.

As I printed it, I realized that Ruby–one of the main characters in the MIP– who is mourning a lost love and wishing for something else, heads out to the lavender fields and finds the little roses.  She cuts them and arranges them in tiny bottles for her friends.

All the details we write come from within us somewhere, memories and images, colors and scents and conversational tics. It’s also true that we weave the everyday into the pages, so much so that when I go back to read my earlier books, I’m overwhelmed by the taste of those particular months I was writing. Some are impossible to read for this reason, but maybe when I’m very old, I’ll like going back and living in them, thinking and remembering.

Or not.

A good lesson for me this morning.  I’ve been so rigidly on producing pages, producing pages, that I forgot this is how I work.  I walk around. I take a picture.  I write a blog, and the book blooms behind me, full and heavily scented.

Do you ever find problems solve themselves when you look away?  Or a worry dissolves if you stop twisting it and twisting it? 

A Memory of Potato Salad

I am making potato salad this morning, from a cookbook that is so tattered and well-used that I have to rubberband it together to keep all the pages in.  The cookbook is one I’ve mentioned here before, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, given to me by my grandmother when I married (my now-ex) thirty years ago.  Her handwriting on the fly leaf is fading, but visible, and I feel her with me when I cook.

In fact, this morning as I assemble the ingredients for what really is one of the BEST potato salads of all time, I’m suddenly and inexplicable transported to a day that must well over a decade ago.  My grandmother and my mother-in-law, whom we all called Mama sat in my blue-painted dining room together. They had not had much time to chat before, though I knew how alike they were—both devoted to God, both beauties. That afternoon, they were both quite well-dressed in the way of Southern Women, wearing skirts and good jewelry, their hair nicely done.  One white, one black, both of them exquisitely beautiful, even at their advanced ages.  They sat spoiling Sasha the terrible terrier who charmed every old woman in that room and then spent the evening farting pungently and snoring in pure happiness from all the tidbits they fed her.

Why do I remember that day, in particular? I must have made this potato salad fifty times, a hundred.  But this is the day that rises up, whole and shimmering. The sun shone through the lace curtains and music was playing from the kitchen and I was making potato salad with Fern, Mama’s sister. (My memory stutters suddenly—was it Fern? Or Vivian? Which sisters came with her? I narrow in on that kitchen I so loved, with two windows, and that day sun was shining through the elm leaves. Fern, so tidy and smaller than the others. Yes, that’s who it was.  She taught me to how to boil the potatoes whole, then let them cool so the peeling is easier.

I don’t remember the reason for the gathering—was it an anniversary? Someone’s birthday? Why did Mama and her sister come all the way to Colorado? It was the only time they made the trip. The reason escapes me.  I don’t remember who else was there.  Only Mama and my grandmother and Sasha and Fern.

I see their laughing faces.  I see Sasha begging with her fu Manchu beard and bright eyes—a dog who lived sixteen years and it wasn’t quite enough still.  I have the sense that I knew my marriage was doomed already, that there had already been a lot of trouble, but my husband was there, too, barbequing maybe.  Almost certainly in charge of the music.

Today, my potatoes are ready and I set them in the sink and run cold water over them.  The potato salad today is for my nephew, home for a couple of weeks after joining the Navy.  I wonder how it will all look to him now, after eight months away.  My parents will be there, and I’ll bring my granddaughter back home with me, to sleep over so her parents can go to the fair.  Will I remember this day, a decade from now when I make this recipe?

Who knows? Not me.  What I do know is that the potato salad is delicious, that Mama and Grandma would be thrilled with my grandmotherness—and my darling Amara– now, and that Fern would be pleased to know that I remember her showing me that trick.  Recipes are tradition and love and the very ordinariness of repetition.

I hope you’re cooking—or eating–something today that makes you remember people you love.

Do you have a dish that conjures up memories of people you love, or a day you like to remember? 

One Ripe Peach

I heard the unsettling news that an old friend died suddenly last January.  We were in college together, and he was part of the Cantina gang, many of us Mass Comm majors at CSU Pueblo.  We talked about having lunch, taking time to catch up, but you know…we didn’t.  It was disconcerting that he died so suddenly, and also that I didn’t hear about it for such a long time.

Another friend from that same group is desperately ill, and I’ve struggled a lot this year with the sudden, extreme illness of a another friend.

And then, I found a hummingbird, dead and eviserated on my dining room floor.  I’d been hoping it was too fast for the cats, but clearly, they got him.  I was quite upset by it.

So I wandered out to the garden to water the lilacs and the peach tree. (What a long hot summer it has been!)  It’s all in full, intense, maturity at the moment, everything big and sturdy and fertile.  The peach tree is so heavily laden with peaches that the branches are bending over, touching the ground, and every day I test them gently to see if any of them are ripe.  I have to say, they are not the most perfect peaches that have ever been grown.  They are smallish and most of them have marks from the endless hailstorm that fell for three hours one June twilight.

But they are my peaches, from the tree I have been tending carefully, so to me they are beautiful.  I stood next to the tree and thanked her, once again, for all she’s had to endure, and as if to nudge me back, she offered a hidden peach, one growing in a protected spot near her belly.  I reached for it, and it fell off right into my palm–furry and ruddy, all the soft green gone from the skin.  One hailstone injured it, but the peach grew around the spot, giving it a dimple.  In the store, you might pass this peach over for one that was more perfectly symmetrical.  I held it in my palm, marveling at all the days it grew, all the days of this very specific summer.  I ran it under the water and bit into the furry round side, and the taste of this very summer, the cold hail and the hot hot days and even the smoke were there, in the flesh, each day bringing its own gift to the flesh, to the sweetness.  It was every so slightly warm, and juice burst into my mouth, ran down my chin and down my arm.  I stood next to my friend the peach tree and let her see how much I appreciated the gift, how lovely it was, this very singular, very ordinary, unique peach, the only one just like itself in all the world.

I looked over the garden to the swing, took in the brussels and sunflowers and the swing at the far end, and knew that in grieving my friend and the hummingbird, I’m also grieving the fact taht someday I have to leave this plane, too.

But right now, with peach juice running down my chin and arm, I am alive.  I have this moment, this very summer, this very singular, very ordinary day. And that’s enough.


A Return To Blogging

I took a little sabbatical last week, and one thing that came up is that I miss my blog. Not the blogs I write for other sites, about whatever their message is, but my own, inward/outward blogs about walking through my life and my work and my garden.  It is said that blogs are dying, that no one reads them anymore, but I do. So do you or you wouldn’t be here.

I have let myself become distracted by a thousand other tasks, distracted away from a form I genuinely enjoy and feels wise to me.  In fact, the quest for wisdom, the desire to understand what wisdom is, what it means to be wise, to be an elder, a wise woman, has been dogging me lately.   Natural, perhaps when a grandchild arrives and you see the future, a future that will not always contain you in this particular form.

The fast, short updates of Facebook and Twitter have shifted attention away from blogs/columns, but while it can feel good to keep up to date with the day to day happenings of people via those methods, there can be no exploration of ideas in those forms, at least I don’t know how to do it.

spring slopes

What I do know is that this slightly longer form, a column or blog, is perfect for me to mull an idea, think about something, share them with you, my reader.

So I’m going to commit to blogging again here.  I don’t know how often….maybe once a week sometimes, maybe every day.   We’ll see.  There is much afoot in my world.  A baby and books and walking and trips abroad.   I am interested in exploring the idea of wisdom and might come up with a year-long project to see what that looks like.

We’ll see.  For now, I wanted to let you know I’m returning to this form.


A baby, an appendix, and a book…oh my!

Since my last post, these are the things that have happened in my world:

Amara was born over two days.  It was not an easy labor for mama, but I was very honored to be there and watch my first grandchild make her way into the world.  She was born February 18, and this is a picture from that day:


Two days after she arrived home, my beloved Christopher Robin fell ill. We first believed it was food poisoning, so he gave up all food and slept for a day.  The next day, I decided it might be appendicitis.  I was right.  It was a very terrible case of appendicitis, about as bad as you can get and still survive, and he spent four days in the hospital, then another ten days at home in bed.  I made periodic trips to kiss Amara, but mostly, I urged CR to drink more tea, and eat eat eat eat….!

On the work front, I’m juggling three projects: the first is the arrival of The Garden of Happy Endings as a real live book in stores and ebook readers near you on April 17.  There are signings, conferences, blog tours, giveaways, and I hope you’ll check them out. I will have a schedule up next week sometime.  I love this book very much, and hope you will, too.  It showed up nearly whole, throwing down a gauntlet that kicked my rear all through the spring and summer last year. There are gardens and dogs and sisters and a woman who became, through her courage and questing, one of my favorite characters ever.

Second project is finished: the rough draft of my online serial novel The Mirror Girl, the first book in a three-book YA urban fantasy/sff series is finished!

The third is the book for next year, involving all manner of research and food and the losses we think we can’t possibly survive, and the people who help us through–fathers and friends, animals and love affairs, hobbies and work we love.  Very engaged and excited about this book.

And it might be true that time I might have spent blogging has been spent kissing the downy cheek of a little girl.

Wouldn’t you kiss her, too?


In the moment……

It is a late Friday afternoon in February.  My dog Jack is snoring on the floor behind me. My old cat Athena is comfortably sitting in the sunshine , peering out at the world. The kittens randomly leap on the back of the chair, up to the desk, over to the bookcase, hoping to get me to come open a can of food for them.   I am waiting for my son to call and say that we’re going to the hospital so that his wife can be induced, a call I have been waiting for–and THEY have been waiting for all day.  It was supposed to happen at 6 am. Then 9 am. Now 6 pm.

We are very, very ready for her to be here. Yesterday was long enough by itself, since we heard the news on Wednesday afternoon that Morgan probably needs to deliver.  But there were…electrical problems on the floor at the hospital. They had to postpone.  I would be lying if I said this didn’t make me anxious, but I am also a believer in things working together for good, so I’m focusing on the fact that it would have been worse for her to be in labor when the power snagged.

So presented with an entire day, what have I done?  A lot of Facebook.  A lot of texting with my sisters. I made a stab at writing new material for The Mirror Girl, but the first time was a bust, so I took a little nap.  I woke up and shot a bunch of photos with my new camera, mostly playing with depth of field on little tiny things (you may have noticed I love shooting very little things up close), made some lunch read more Facebook.

BORED.  I can’t really go to the gym because I had a stomach bug earlier this week and it kicked my butt, so I’m restricted from the gym for the week. Not even yoga. Yesterday, my dog was so slow on the final stretch that I got worried about him, so he got a bone instead of a walk today.

I finally did write some pages on The Mirror Girl (which is almost finished, at least this first book is) and did another round of deep research on childhood leukemia, which figures into the new book for Bantam.  I sent out some emails for The Garden of Happy Endings and made a list of things to do for the release, April 17.  (I will be at several events through April and May, so be sure to check back.)

(And by the way, if you’re collecting the old titles, two more have gone up, Light of Day and A Minute to Smile.  Check out the covers–aren’t they pretty??)

But really, all I’m doing is waiting for Amara.

Here is one of the photos I shot.  I love old silver and tiny spoons and salt cellars in particular.  Have you ever had one?


What do you do when all you’re really doing is waiting?

The process

Since November, I’ve been writing a serial novel for a blog, The OtherLand Chronicles, which I’ve written about here several times.  After two months, I have some observations.

I began on November 1, for NaNoWriMo, a lark.  Or so I thought.  The truth is, this story has been rattling around in my head for more than three years, gathering bits and pieces to itself.  Every so often, it came to me with a new shiny something, like a child who wants to play, and I would say, “Oh, that really is clever, but I don’t really have time right now to do anything with it.  Hang on to it, okay?”  The book-child wold nod and amble away, admiring her little treasure.

Over and over and over this happened, until I realized that I had a LOT of material.  Like an entire world and backstory and a story arc long enough for a trilogy.  It was all born from my walks in the parkways around Briargate, and that’s a lot of walking.  Every day, year in, year out, me and my dog and the story brewing.

Any writer knows that sooner or later, that work has to be done.  It will force its way into your schedule no matter what else you’ve got going on, and it will make itself so very attractive that you will have no choice. You’ll be seduced.

I was seduced. Now I find myself writing an entire book in public, which is not the most comfortable thing in the world. It forces me to find more time to write than I usually would, and for the first time in years, I’m really a hermit.  I don’t want to go anywhere.  I have work to do. So much work, all of it so different, and so much fun in its own ways.

I also discovered that as much as I’d like to do a “serial draft” where I don’t change anything, that was just not possible.  I had to go back and do some revisions for the sake of the story. I had to rewrite a couple of scenes pretty substantially and move a couple of them around, and until I did it, the book stubbornly wasn’t going to let me move forward.

But here’s the thing: this is my play project, so I get to make the rules.  My promise to the readers of the material is that I will finish.  I will not quit until I have a complete story.  Turns out my promise to the story is that I have to serve it first.  Which is always the way.

For the record, I am having a blast. This is as entertaining as anything I’ve done.

If you haven’t been reading along and wish to begin, start at the beginning.

If you have been reading, I finally got new material up after the long Christmas break.  Start at Chapter Eleven, Scene 4

Adulthood and my personal commandments

I am pretty sure I’ve talked about Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project before.  The book is upbeat, illuminating, and surprisingly practical.  One of the steps I love most is her approach to creating a map of living.  Each of us have a different set of goals, a dharma and purpose unlike that of anyone else.  It’s helpful to put that down in writing.

These are my 12 personal commandments, which are connected to the secrets of adulthood.  I used Rubin’s list as a model, but adapted them to me and my reality. Maybe you have a list of your own you’d like to share.

1. Be Barbara
This is taken directly from Rubin.  It reminds me to be ME, not some idealized version of me.  Or as my old Unity minister used to say, “I am God expressing as….Barbara.”  Which is an exhilarating thought, really.

2. I am 100% responsible for my own happiness

Never as easy as I think it will be.  For example, when I am driving and some rude driver cuts me off, how can I be happy?  But I can, as my friend Heather does, tell myself another story about the action.  Maybe that person has a sick child or is rushing to the beside of his best friend.

This also counts when I am irritated with some aspect of daily life or a person in my life….100% means all the time. The weird thing is, this particular secret carries a huge amount of relief.

 3. If I look good, I feel good.
This doesn’t mean trying to be botoxed and skinny.  It is to remind me that while it’s okay to wear yoga pants and my hair in a scrunchy while I’m working, I feel 10x better if I  get my hair cut on time and wear only clothes I really love.  It means putting on the nicer shirt and taking the time to do my hair before CR comes home.  Little stuff, that’s all.  (And this probably makes me sound like a slob, which would be impossible for a daughter of my mother.)

4. An Uncluttered Environment Leads to an Uncluttered Mind
Simple. I don’t have to have sparkling clean floors, but need to reduce visual clutter as much as possible.

 5. Exercise always helps
I need daily walks and fresh air and lots of hard, physical exercise.  I am grouchy without it.  If I’m cranky or overwhelmed or tired, I almost always need to get outside or go swimming or go work out.  The deeper the grumpiness, the more I need to do.

 6. Sleep Gives You A Clear Head

I am a morning person.  Like, obnoxiously so.  I like to wake up early and get going on the day.  That means I’m genuinely tired and ready to quit by 8 or 9.  Because I grew up with vampires, I sometimes feel sheepish about this and will often try to stay up until 11, like other people.  All this does is make me tired.  Going to bed with a good book at 9 is a great choice for me.

 7. Overindulging Always Has A Price
 Just what it says.  Too much sugar or wine, too many video games, too many cookies…and I don’t feel great.

8. Work and Meeting Goals Makes Me Happy
I am lucky enough to adore the work I do.  Sometimes, however, I can procrastinate myself into a corner and then I have to work too hard to be able to enjoy the process.  Much much better to set reasonable goals and show up every day to get the work done.  I feel so much better this way.

 9. Tracking My Progress Is An Effective Tool for Conscious Living
I am a born diarist, and seeing my day to day habits in black and white makes me aware of what habits and actions actually form the basis of my life.  That allows me to be accountable and to make changes if I so desire.

 10. Celebrating others makes me feel happy
Everyone likes to be noticed, honored, get presents and cards. 

11. Meditation is my way of listening to God
I like meditation, but I am surprised how often I’ll say to myself, “I don’t have time this morning.”  Making time makes a difference.

12. I am always practicing to be an elder
Our society revers youth, not elders, but we need our elders to guide and help lead.  To be the Wise Woman I hope to be one day, I have to learn what that means, and how to embrace it. That means listening to my elders instead of dismissing them.  It means seeking instruction and guidance.  It means practicing awareness of what I say and how I say it and how that influences others.

How about you? Can you think of some things you’d put on your list?